By Gail Zawacki: On Themism and Seeking Scapegoats for Reality

Themis

Gail Zawacki in her latest excellent essay introduces “Themist”, a new name for doomers, that tiny group of mutants with defective denial genes, that I belong to.

Gail succinctly summarizes why we Themists believe know what we believe know, and discusses a new trend to blame Themists for causing civilization’s imminent collapse.

I’m a Themist and proud of it. Come and get me you denying idiots, I’m right here.

http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2019/07/in-praise-of-themis.html

1. Consciousness and Denial

In tandem with consciousness, humanity developed a deeply embedded penchant for denial. It’s a terrific survival strategy that evolved to help blind us to the pain of animals we hunt and eat, the terror of the victims of wars we wage on our neighbors, the monstrosity of slavery, the injustice of male chauvinism, the senselessness of death, and ultimately the fearsome gaping maw of meaninglessness in the vast unfeeling universe.

Our denial, entrenched in our genes, also enables – even requires – us to believe fantasies, to embrace spirits, to shun truth, to subscribe to the illusion of free will, to follow charlatans, and to pretend our hopes and prayers can shape reality.

 

2. WASF

Fact: there exists no natural mechanism that will slow the acceleration of anthropogenic global heating in any timeframe useful to life on earth. It is only reasonable to expect that it’s going to get hotter and hotter, faster and faster, for at least hundreds of years. Even if anthropogenic emissions cease today or in a decade, heating will still increase at an accelerating rate. Amplifying feedbacks such as albedo and forest die off and methane release from melting permafrost combined with the longevity of CO2 already released assure an uninhabitable climate in the fairly near future.

Once you understand that greenhouse gases will continue to trap energy from the sun as long as they persist, everything else – climate sensitivity and latent ocean warming and inertia in the system – is so much hoohah. The idea that technology yet to be invented will remove CO2 is no better than a religious tenet, and it will never be deployed at a scale that matters given the vast quantities that have already been released (and continue to be released).

 

3. Humans are incapable of change

As convincing as the physical effects documented by science are, it’s also and crucially ever more irrefutable that humans are simply not equipped to behave any other way than to grow without voluntary restraint, until we deplete the resources we need to survive, and overwhelm the environment with pollution until it is so toxic that it is poisonous to virtually all forms of life. We are basically an invasive species with no more self restraint than yeast.

This is where even the most dire voices about climate change often err.  It’s not libertarianism, or capitalism, or western civilization that has led us to this predicament – rather it is humanity’s exponential growth, in numbers and complexity, in technological capability, medical advances, and consumption.  The imperative to grow and consume is primordial and we cannot eliminate that biological trait despite our desire to believe in free will.

 

4. Apocaloptimists attacking doomers – as worse than deniers 

Overwhelming evidence – that impacts are faster and sooner than predicted, that tipping points have been irrevocably crossed, that amplifying feedbacks are beyond human influence, that global warming is run amuk with no natural mechanisms or magic technology to ameliorate inexorable heating – is leading more people to conclude that civilization (if not our species and most others) is doomed. Right now, there is an increasingly vocal contingent who are vigorously attacking the nebulous doomer community.

Much of the sniping and scapegoating begins with the hostile accusation that doomers, merely by existing, are encouraging inaction. This is patently absurd, since inaction has been and remains the default position ever since humans first noticed that burning fuel has consequences. No contribution by doomers towards defeatism accounts for the ever-increasing Keeling curve that measures CO2 concentrations, or the refusal of governments to meet climate treaty goals.

 

5. No fun

An especially pernicious assertion by this “shoot the messenger” crowd is the common claim that doomers are secretly desirous of a catastrophic end for humanity. I doubt there is a single doomer who finds any comfort whatsoever in either the inevitability of extinction or their own individual role in it. Every doomer I’ve ever interacted with, and there have been many, has agonized and mourned – and some have even gone crazy with grief and guilt and committed suicide. It’s not fun being a doomer, which is why there are so few of us.

Many doomers began as former devoted progressives, who fought long and hard before awakening with enormous ambivalence to the sad verity that humanity is not going to change. I personally learned about the tenacity of denial the hard way, first from trying to alert the world to the death of trees (a massacre that seemed perfectly obvious to me over a decade ago but invited unending ridicule) and second, from encountering so many “light” doomers – who will forever remain convinced, no matter how much archeological evidence refutes it, that the noble primitive and peaceful and sustainable indigenous savage was ever really a thing.

24 thoughts on “By Gail Zawacki: On Themism and Seeking Scapegoats for Reality”

  1. If we’re going to accept “the illusion of free will” without argument, then we really have no reason to talk to each other. We can’t change each other’s behavior. We don’t even determine our own. But, I guess we can’t decide NOT to keep writing (pointless) essays, either. But I’d rather argue that behavior is a matter of will, and that education can change behavior, so maybe we’ll work our a way to live out our lives in freedom and dignity, if not comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree we can change behaviors on matters that don’t inconvenience our lifestyles or that don’t constrain economic growth. But if you’re right then you should be able to point to some evidence that education has successfully influenced behavior on substantive matters related to human overshoot like having no more than 1 child, reducing consumption, and shrinking the economy. I don’t see any evidence.

      I created this blog after I read Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory and realized it provided a solid scientific explanation for why we exist, and why we are unable to acknowledge or act on our imminent collapse. I naively assumed that once the scientific reason for our predicament was understood we would use that knowledge to override our genetic behavior. Sadly I remain the only person on the planet that regularly discusses MORT, and that includes the scientist that created the theory.

      Given that facts don’t matter to 99% of the population, there is no point to me or any other Themist writing other than to bear witness to the universe that a few monkeys are capable of using the universe’s most amazing invention to understand what’s going on.

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      1. Hey I discuss MORT quite often actually! (I realize you were using hyperbole for effect.) Where I differ is around the potentiality of evolution of consciousness, having read some of the great mystics (eg Krishnamurti, Aurobindo) and even modern equivalents (here I would inlcude Ken Wilber). Sometimes it’s random as far as we can see, that a person is an adept in some capacity, sometimes it’s because of great suffering, aka Buddha, Mother Theresa, sometimes it ‘s actually curiosity to know what is Mind as such. Singularities have happened in the past, they can happen in the future, including evolutionary leaps in consciousness.
        Looking forward to your comments Rob, and others.

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        1. It’s very nice to hear that there are some people that discuss MORT.

          The potential energy for destruction that we have built up by borrowing our way out of the 2008 debt crisis, and by wizards behind the curtain buying assets to prevent any of our many bubbles from deflating is huge.

          I’m beginning to think we might experience a singularity, but not a happy one.

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  2. Rob, I love the quotes you chose.

    Gail, I greatly enjoyed your essay. You have a gift for saying things clearly and passionately. Six months ago I read, and agree with, your (dare I say?) ‘prophetic’ assessment of the declining health of trees.

    There is really only one major thing I would take issue with on evidential grounds in this “Themism” piece: Secular scholarship on the evolutionary and ecological significance of religious/mythic consciousness and speech is fairly united, at least around this point: The fundamental role of secular language is for describing and understanding reality. The fundamental role of mythic language is for RELATING to reality (i.e, the ecosphere) in healthy, non-self-terminating-and-nature-destroying ways. Both are needed.

    Even Paul S. Martin, a dear friend and my wife’s most significant mentor (originator of the Overkill hypothesis; now widely accepted as factual), understood and accepted as obvious evidence that the vast majority of human cultures over the last half-million years lived or so typically lived in ways that were ecocentric, rather than anthropocentric. In other words, their technology, their settlements, their ways of exchanging goods and services, their education, their community, etc were (more or less) in accord with the needs of the biosphere. Edward (Teddy) Goldsmith repeatedly and forcefully made these points in both his seminal book, “The Way: An Ecological Worldview” and his earlier volume, “The Stable Society”. Both were based on 450 years of anthropological evidence about the difference between cultures that foul their own nest and those who don’t.

    I highly recommend both of these Goldsmith books for your consideration, as well as the following four books: (1) “The Social Conquest of Earth” by Edward O. Wilson, (2) “Darwin’s Cathedral” by David Sloan Wilson, (3) “Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion” by Stuart Guthrie (published by Oxford University Press in 1992 and now a classic foundational text of two overlapping research disciplines: ‘Evolutionary Religious Studies’ and ‘The Religious Studies Project’, and (4) “Supernatural as Natural: A Biocultural Approach to Religion” by Michael Winkelman and John Baker.

    In any event, keep up the great ‘prophetic’ writing!

    Celebrating both doom and post-doom,

    ~ Michael
    P.S. Background on my wife, Connie Barlow: http://thegreatstory.org/CB-writings.html
    Her “Climate, Trees, and Legacy” video blog: http://thegreatstory.org/climate-trees-legacy.html
    A paper Connie and Paul S. Martin co-authored: http://thegreatstory.org/barlow-martin.pdf
    Background on me (mostly prior to joining the doomesphere): http://thegreatstory.org/michaeldowd.html and http://michaeldowd.org/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michael, hope you are well. I recall discussing this issue with you on the phone. I feel the same now as I did then, namely that I hope you are right but I suspect you are wrong. I base my opinion on the fact that those behaviors relevant to overshoot are more genetic than cultural, and all 8 billion of us are genetically similar and have not changed much in the 100,000 years since behaviorally modern humans emerged.

      Basically we behave like yeast. If there’s surplus sugar we multiply, if there’s finite sugar we stabilize, and if there’s a sugar shortage we contract.

      Having said that, I’m not an expert in this area and would like to be proven wrong. As I offered in our last conversation, if you provide 2 or 3 specific examples of sustainable cultures I’ll research them and if it’s confirmed that they lived sustainably by choice rather than force, I’ll join you with a little more hope and will spread the word.

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  3. It doesn’t really matter how denial came into being (although not wishing to diminish Varki’s work)…..we just have to be in denial…..we wouldn’t have survived as an intelligent species without it. But those of us who are ‘doomers’ (I prefer ‘realists’), mustn’t let it be known that we are. I’ve just lost a valued friend because she discovered I was a doomer…..and therefore mentally ill.

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    1. I understand and respect your opinion. I have a different view. I’m so sick of the lack of awareness and intelligent discourse by almost everyone about everything that matters that I consider it a badge of honor to speak publicly using my real name and damn the consequences.

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  4. Rob, I don’t take issue with anything you say here. Once the human animal was able to overpower the constraints (limits) of the living world for our own benefit, without a corresponding I-Thou respect and care for the more-than-human world upon which we depended, our eventual total self-destruction was inevitable.

    Historically, written language seems to be especially problematic. Once a culture becomes literate, a form of anthropocentric consciousness seems to always arise that ultimately leads to ecological destruction and self-termination. Walter Ong was perhaps the greatest scholar on the radical difference in oral and literate consciousness. Tens of thousands of cultures over tens of thousands of years lived (more or less) in an I-Thou way with the larger body of life of which they were part and upon which they depended. No literate culture has ever (yet) succeeded in this. And I’m with you and Gail and the others who call themselves “doomers”… I’m pretty sure our time is up. I just use the term “post-doom” because I see it as a natural process. The fact that I’m growing older and will die in the not-too-distant future is not doom; it’s just real.

    Keep up the great work!

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    1. It’s my understanding that non-literate cultures wiped out the megafauna everywhere in the world except Africa where the animals co-evolved with hominids and thus knew to avoid us.

      You claim tens of thousands of sustainable cultures and I claim zero. We can determine who is correct if you provide the names of your 3 best examples of sustainable cultures.

      Ditto on our disagreement over the uniqueness of mortality awareness in humans. I read the book Beyond Words that you recommended and found no examples of animals that are aware of and deny their own mortality with religions.

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      1. You can have whatever “understanding” you want, Rob, but your claim that zero cultures lived for extended periods of time without degrading or destroying their habitat is laughable. Yes, whenever human being showed up with the ability to kill at a distance (spears, etc) most of the megafauna went out. But that hardly proves your point. I’ve repeatedly pointed you in the direction of widely respected academic resources that would enrich your understanding, such as those mentioned above, and you are clearly not interested in having your understanding challenged. I can live with that. I have no need to persuade you or Gail or anyone else on this matter. Keep up the great work!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Delighted to hear that your read Beyond Words. I loved it!

        fyi… I have no need to persuade you that Varki’s theory loses out on Occams razor grounds either (i.e., there are more simple and straightforward ways of explaining both our penchant for denial and religiosity). We’ve had that discussion and I can leave it in the past. And I will not debate or even discuss the matter further here. Just don’t have the time or interest.

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        1. Whether or not denial is a root cause of human “success” or just a feature of human nature (or any species aware of its mortality), it’s an issue that needs to be faced.

          I recently came upon a glaring example in the otherwise articulate Jo Nova. Her blog is the climate equivalent of Sandy Hook trutherism, with an equally rabid audience. There are headlines like “Antarctic Sea Ice lowest in 40 years, but no one knows why…” The Internet-driven resurgence of Flat-Earthers is another bad omen. Once these people put themselves out there, they add a face-saving aspect where they can’t turn back, so it’s a one-way denial ratchet.

          It would be good to get polled percentages of people who aren’t afflicted with the “denial gene.” I’d put it at 5-10% at most. The percentage who can LEARN to overcome their genetic programming is important, but it doesn’t seem high enough. The clueless override the clued with sheer numbers.

          Peak Oil should prevent economies from getting too big again after a global collapse, but life will get brutal for those still around. There’s no clean way out of this (especially with ruinous “clean” wind power). All one can really do is rant or hope for nuclear fusion.

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          1. You’re more generous than I am! I’m put it at closer to 97-98% of humanity prefers denial (consciously or unconciously). It just FEELS better… that is, in cultures that are destroying their habitat. Denial is not needed in cultures that live within the carrying capacity of their habitat (hardly any in the world any more, as you so consistently remind me).

            Have you ever read Dave Pollard’s blog post on “Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care”? It’s one of my favorites. I’ve even preached on it (as I have denial, lifting your work up and mentioning Varki, of course). Here’s Dave’s post: http://howtosavetheworld.ca/2018/07/15/cultural-acedia-when-we-can-no-longer-care/ and my sermon including it: https://youtu.be/iHjBwA93jCs

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  5. Rob, your wrote, “It’s my understanding that non-literate cultures wiped out the megafauna everywhere in the world except Africa where the animals co-evolved with hominids and thus knew to avoid us.” As I mentioned in my first comment, above, it was Paul S. Martin who took that idea from obscurity to widespread acceptance. Connie and I regularly discussed such matters with Paul in his living room.

    Trust me (or not) he did not hold or support either your or Gail’s view on this point.

    Here’s Connie’s tribute page: http://thegreatstory.org/paul-martin.html

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  6. Rob, I woke up this morning pondering how really bright and generally not-denial-prone folk like you and Gail can possibly hold such silly and erroneous beliefs such as there have been “zero sustainable cultures” (your claim) or when Gail writes, “the noble primitive and peaceful and sustainable indigenous savage was ever really a thing.” I think the problem may be how the word “sustainable” is being interpreted. If you think of “sustainable” (in the way many liberals today do) as peaceful, perfect harmony with all that is then, no, of course zero cultures haven been sustainable. If you realize “sustainable” means “living within the carrying capacity of the habitat” then it becomes obvious how human beings succeeded living some 20,000 generations more or less sustainably.

    I find it hard to believe that you and Gail have been persuaded by David Deming and his fellow denialists, but that surely seems to be the case: https://www.edmondsun.com/opinion/noble-savage-myth-covers-up-truth/article_e2548afc-0cdf-5be2-b786-421c2214065d.html

    In any event, I recommend reading, instead, Teddy Goldsmith’s “The Way” and “The Stable Society.”

    But I especially recommend reading EVERYTHING that my friend and colleague Richard Adrian Reese has written on the subject, especially his work-in-process, “Wild, Happy, and Free” and 200+ reviews of the best scholarship on the whole subject. Begin here: http://wildancestors.blogspot.com/2018/09/wild-free-and-happy-sample-01.html (he now has 18 samples)

    Rick’s “Sustainability Primer” is also priceless! http://wildancestors.blogspot.com/2017/08/sustainability-primer.html

    Finally, as I’ve mentioned to you previously, William Catton’s classic book, OVERSHOOT (which Connie and I both consider the most important book we’ve ever read) is a MUST READ FOR ANYONE HOPING TO AVOID LIVING IN DENIAL OF ECOLOGICAL REALITY. See here: http://thegreatstory.org/sustainability-audios.html#catton
    My recording of Catton has migrated here: https://soundcloud.com/michael-dowd-grace-limits/sets/william-r-catton-jr

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  7. Rob, I woke up this morning pondering how really bright and generally not-denial-prone folk like you and Gail can possibly hold such silly and erroneous beliefs such as there have been “zero sustainable cultures” (your claim) or when Gail writes, “the noble primitive and peaceful and sustainable indigenous savage was ever really a thing.” I think the problem may be how the word “sustainable” is being interpreted. If you think of “sustainable” (in the way many liberals today do) as peaceful, perfect harmony with all that is then, no, of course zero cultures haven been sustainable. If you realize “sustainable” means “living within the carrying capacity of the habitat” then it becomes obvious how human beings succeeded living some 20,000 generations more or less sustainably.

    I find it hard to believe that you and Gail have been persuaded by David Deming and his fellow denialists, but that surely seems to be the case: https://www.edmondsun.com/opinion/noble-savage-myth-covers-up-truth/article_e2548afc-0cdf-5be2-b786-421c2214065d.html

    In any event, I recommend reading, instead, Teddy Goldsmith’s “The Way” and “The Stable Society.” But I especially recommend reading EVERYTHING that my friend and colleague Richard Adrian Reese has written on the subject, especially his work-in-process, “Wild, Happy, and Free” and 200+ reviews of the best scholarship on the whole subject. Begin here: http://wildancestors.blogspot.com/2018/09/wild-free-and-happy-sample-01.html (he now has 18 samples) Rick’s “Sustainability Primer” is also priceless! http://wildancestors.blogspot.com/2017/08/sustainability-primer.html

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  8. Tim Watkins on why nothing will change until we are forced to change…

    “This, of course, gets to the nub of the problem with addressing the growing environmental catastrophe. Three-quarters of us (outside the USA) accept the science. Two-thirds of us agree that “something must be done.” Less than half of us are prepared to vote for anyone who promises to do something. And less than ten percent of us are prepared to make meaningful sacrifices to lower our carbon footprints – and those who are, are seldom those who can most afford to do so.”

    http://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2019/08/13/goldsmiths-kebab/

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    1. Rob (and Gail),

      I sincerely apologize to both of you for my arrogant and combative attitude in the comments above. Just in the last few days I’ve read the last few samples of my friend and colleague Richard Adrian Reese’s book-in-process, “Wild, Happy, and Free”: http://wildancestors.blogspot.com/ and I’m now convinced that the position both of you have been articulating — even though I don’t hold it exactly as you do — is, in fact, a solid, evidence-based historically valid position. It’s humbling for me to admit, of course, that my ‘know-it-all’ dismissive attitude is uncalled for and, indeed, counterproductive.

      Ah…life’s learnings come in all shapes and sizes. … Keep up the great work!

      ~ Michael

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